In New Jersey, the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) investigates allegations of child abuse and neglect. They are required by law to follow up on every report they receive. Also, every New Jersey citizen must report suspected child abuse and neglect. Those who report suspected abuse in good faith are generally immune to any type of legal action against them. Concerned citizens can make anonymous reports.
The DCPP must follow up on any report they receive, no matter how frivolous it may seem. Investigators are not required to inform the accused when they will visit the home. They often prefer to make random visits to catch the accused off-guard. They are also not obligated to reveal who made the report. Investigators need only inform the accused parties that an investigation of child abuse has begun. They can provide general information about the accusations.
When DCPP investigators make contact with the accused in the home, they will:
- Conduct a home inspection, looking for home cleanliness, the child’s living and sleeping arrangements, and the availability of clothing, shelter, food, and water.
- Interview the parents, guardians, and any relatives or other persons living in the home looking for signs of abuse and neglect.
- Interview the children who are the subject of the investigation and their siblings.
- Look for signs of physical and emotional abuse on the child.
- May ask the accused to sign a release allowing access to medical records and other confidential information.
- May ask the accused to undergo evaluations or submit to drug tests.
Will the DCPP Interview People Outside of the Home?
During the course of the investigation, DCPP investigators might also:
- Interview immediate family and close friends living outside the home.
- Interview teachers, medical providers, child care providers, or any other person who may know the child’s living situation and physical/mental health.
- Review medical and school records.
The DCPP generally tries to close cases within 60 days, but they can ask for more time if needed. Anyone under investigation should know their rights and what they are required or not required to do. For example, the accused party does not have to answer the investigator’s questions upon the first contact.
A lawyer can help those investigated by DCPP understand their rights in the investigation process. Contact them before signing any documents or answering any questions in an investigation. While the accused need to be respectful and cooperative with the DCPP, they can wait for the guidance of a lawyer to help them.
What if the DCPP Suspects Child Abuse?
If the DCPP has enough evidence to suspect child abuse, they substantiate the parents or the other accused party. They can file an emergency complaint with the New Jersey family court system if they feel a child is at immediate risk for harm. When the DCPP files an emergency complaint, a special lawyer is appointed to represent the child, who will be immediately removed from the home by court order.
At this point, the accused needs to hire a lawyer if they have not done so before. The lawyer will help the accused parties navigate the many legal and court proceedings that occur with removal, cooperate with the DCPP and their mandates, and work toward reuniting the family.
If the DCPP does not find evidence of child abuse, the case is closed.
What Happens if My Child is Removed?
The DCPP has the legal obligation to try to reunify families when children are removed from the home. They do this through supervised visits, even if the child is in foster care or with other temporary guardians. The DCPP can also order the accused party to undergo services that could include:
- Programs to improve parenting skills
- Anger management classes
- Mental health or other counseling
- Drug or alcohol rehabilitation
A judge will require the accused party to comply with the DCPP’s required support services before reuniting the parent and child. These services may take months or even a year. The DCPP can request a court to terminate a parent’s rights in extreme cases.
What are the Possible Results of a DCPP Investigation?
The DCPP must typically end their investigation within 60 days. At that time, they will notify the accused party of one of four possible findings:
- Substantiated: There is abuse or neglect, and there is an aggravating factor.
- Established: There is a showing of abuse or neglect, but upon consideration of aggravating or mitigating factors, a substantiated finding is not warranted.
- Not Established: There is no preponderance of evidence of neglect or abuse, but there is evidence the child was harmed or placed at risk of harm.
- Unfounded: There is no evidence of abuse or neglect, and there is no evidence that the child was harmed or placed at risk of harm.
Aggravating and Mitigating Factors
The state considers the following aggravating and mitigating factors to determine findings:
- Absolute aggravating factors
- Death or near-death of a child
- Sexual abuse
- Hospitalization of a child
- Repeated instances of physical abuse or depriving the child of necessary care
Other aggravating factors that help determine a finding of substantiated or established:
- Institutional abuse or neglect.
- Parent’s failure to comply with court orders.
- The tender age of the child.
- Lasting physical, psychological or emotional impacts on the child.
- Isolation of the child.
Mitigating factors that help determine findings include:
- Remedial actions taken by the accused.
- Any stressors that caused the accused to act uncharacteristically.
- Isolated or aberrational nature of the abuse or neglect.
- Minor harm to the child.
South Jersey DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Help the Accused with DCPP Investigations
Child abuse allegations can be devastating, affecting the accused person’s health, reputation, and ability to find employment or keep familial or social contacts. Anyone being investigated by the New Jersey DCPP should understand how they can protect themselves while working to reunite their families. Speak to the South Jersey DCPP lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker as soon as possible after child abuse allegations. Call us at 856-210-9776 or contact us online for an initial consultation. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve the residents of South Jersey, including Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, and Voorhees.